Reflections

Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent, February 24, 2021

READINESS TO CONVERSION
Introduction
Even for pagans, even for those known for their cruelty, like the people that enslaved the Jews, it is possible to be converted. When the author of the Book of Jonah told this to the Jews, it was an astonishing message to them. For Jews, yes, but for pagans? Jesus seems to turn things around: pagans turn to God, but you, God’s people, don’t. Aren’t we Christians perhaps too smug too, thinking that we are God’s people, and therefore need no confession nor conversion?
 
Opening Prayer
Forgiving, merciful God,
we pray you for a good measure
of humility and honesty
to acknowledge before you and people
that we are weak and fallible men and women,
who often try to turn a blind eye
to our shortcomings and our sins.
Strong with the grace won in the hard way
by your Son on the cross,
we beg you for the courage
to seek your forgiveness
and to turn and return wholeheartedly to you
and to serve you and people.
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen!
 
1 Reading: Jonah 3:1-10
The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it the message that I will tell you.” So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD’s bidding. Now Nineveh was an enormously large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began his journey through the city, and had gone but a single day’s walk announcing, “Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,” when the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in the ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles: “Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil way and from the violence he has in hand. Who knows, God may relent and forgive, and withhold his blazing wrath, so that we shall not perish.” When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.
 
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19
R. (19b) A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
 
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me. R.
 
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me. R.
 
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a burnt offering, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn. R.
 
Gospel Acclamation: Joel 2:12-13
Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart
for I am gracious and merciful.
Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!
 
Gospel: Luke 11:29-32
While still more people gathered in the crowd, Jesus said to them, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it, except the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. At the judgment the queen of the south will rise with the men of this generation and she will condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and there is something greater than Solomon here. At the judgment the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation and condemn it, because at the preaching of Jonah they repented, and there is something greater than Jonah here.”
 
Commentary
Ninevites accepted his word and changed their lives. When Jesus’ contemporaries asked for a sign, he replied that the only sign to be given is that of Jonah. Just as Jonah preached to hard-hearted unbelievers, so to does Jesus. And what will be the effect of Jesus’ call to conversion of life? The tone of the Lucan passage read today indicates that Jesus did not see the fruit of his preaching as did Jonah. Indeed, foreigners who turned to God in the Old Testament (the queen of the South and the Ninevite population) stand on higher ground than Jesus’ contemporaries and can well stand in judgment on them.
The story of Jonah, contained in a short, four-chapter book, was written centuries after the city of Nineveh and its Assyrian population had ceased to exist. It underscores strongly Yahweh’s concern for all people and points forward to that age when all barriers between Jew and Gentile will fall.
We live in an age of ethnic and religious rivalry and intolerance. It is well to remember that there are narrow-minded and bigoted people in every faith. But they are not normative, nor are they representative of the faith as a whole. The readings this morning remind us of the universal character of our faith. Ours is a church that is termed catholic. Any shade of disdain or disrespect toward people of other beliefs has no place. We cannot forget the fact there was a strain of Catholic anti-Semitism in heavily Catholic populations that lasted for centuries.
The Second Vatican Council has ushered us into an era of respect and dialogue.
If Jesus is the sign of Jonah, let us find ourselves with the Ninevites of old in hearing our call to love and understanding, as we stand on the side of acceptance.
 
Intercessions
That God may give to the Church the courage to hear God’s call to constant conversion and renewal, we pray:
• That we may hear the call of the Lord to become ever more faithful to the gospel, we pray:
• That the Church and each of us may receive the call of prophets to change what is to be changed, we pray:
 
Prayer over the Gifts
Lord our God,
your Son Jesus prayed for forgiveness
for those who tortured him.
He invited sinners to his table
as he invites us now.
Let him restore us
and make us receive humbly and graciously
his forgiving love.
May we too restore others
by sharing your mercy with them.
We ask you this through Christ our Lord. Amen!
 
Prayer after Communion
Merciful God,
may we leave this Eucharistic celebration
as people changed by the word of Jesus,
knowing where he wants us to go.
And may his bread of life be our strength
to follow the path he has shown us,
the way to you and to people.
For he is our way and our life,
now and for ever. Amen!
 
Blessing
The trouble with us is that we sometimes congratulate ourselves on how good we are. Yet we are called to live the gospel more deeply, that it may be indeed good news for us and for the people around us. May God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!

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